YOUTH IN FOOD SYSTEMS
1 in 8 working individuals in Canada work in the agri-food sector.
The average age of farmers in Canada is now 55.
An increasing number of emerging food systems careers require advanced skills and education.
The primary goal of our program is to engage high school age youth in food systems learning and leadership development while exploring career options in the agriculture and food sectors. As it stands, most of today’s young people are largely unaware of how food is produced, processed, distributed, and disposed of. Recognizing that the average Canadian farmer is now 55 to 59 years old, and that 1 in 8 people in Canada hold jobs in food-related industries, we believe that youth must be encouraged to see viability in food careers, and in the vast potential for increasing the sustainability of our food systems through these career options. We also believe that youth need opportunities to develop practical, transferable skills and to be empowered to become strong leaders in the food and agriculture sectors.
Did you know that there are hundreds of careers that directly or indirectly influence our food systems in Canada? Or that an increasing number of emerging food systems careers require advanced skills or education?
For most high school students, the answer is no.
So we asked:
How can a young person pursue an agricultural or food sector career without sufficient knowledge of our food systems, without their own skill and leadership development, and without anyone in this sector to turn to for information?
Our program consists of multiple components that work separately and in conjunction with one another to achieve our objectives. Staff facilitate youth-led roles, providing resources and supporting self-directed learning, skill and leadership development, and career exploration. Below are some of the highlights:
Combining Learning & Action: Youth Food Market
Our Youth Food Market project works with a group of high school students each year, our “Market Leaders”, to plan and organize a series of pop-up produce markets in Waterloo Region. Market Leaders plant food gardens in plots shared by our school and community partners, source produce from local growers and food businesses, harvest seasonal produce, conduct secondary community research to determine pricing, and promote and staff an affordably-priced market stall, with proceeds going to further youth programming. Through these programs, youth collaborate online and in-person to learn agricultural science and practice, while gaining valuable practical experience in communication, logistics, research, marketing, business, and leadership.
Hands-On Practice and Learning: Garden Education Workshops
Our Garden Education Program, in collaboration with community partners, engages youth in outdoor physical activity, social learning with peers, and a facilitated exploration of food security through a series of garden-based workshops and regular hands-on food production opportunities in community and school gardens. Youth participants spend time in face-to-face garden activities with their peers and adult mentors, where they are able to build relationships, collaborate, and solve problems in real time. Conversations with staff and facilitators provide opportunities for youth to learn about education and career pathways while exploring their interests.
Career Learning and Mentorship: Careers in Food Systems Interview Series
Our Careers in Food Systems Interview Series connects youth with people working in food systems careers to learn about paths for education and employment, and share what they have learned in a video interview series on YouTube, podcast series, and career profile infographics. Our staff support youth as they explore their interests in future food systems work, and connect them with mentors working with these careers. Youth develop interview questions, connect with mentors for interviews, and assist in the editing and promoting of the recorded interviews. Youth then take the lead in transforming the videos into audio podcast episodes and infographics for peer-to-peer multimodal learning.
Inquiry and Communications: The Youth Blog
Our youth-led blog is made up of regularly released posts that are written, edited, designed, and published by youth volunteers. Youth are given significant autonomy in selecting food systems-related topics of interest or importance to them, and to undertake research to develop resources for communicating what they have learned with their peers.
Are you a high school student looking for ways to get involved? All of our Youth in Food Systems programming works within a youth-led model, meaning there are a number of year-round remote and seasonal in-person opportunities for involvement. Plus, you can get some community service hours by volunteering with us!
From April 2021 to April 2022, we have directly engaged over 120 youth volunteers across southern Ontario in the program. Here’s some of what they had to say about their work with us:
Volunteering at Waterloo Region School Food Gardens these past two months has significantly impacted my life [..] Through my role as a Social Media Content Creator, I have made posts about food literacy, gardening tips, and environmentally friendly actions with my peers, and I have, at the same time, educated myself and others to take better care of the world around us. I feel that the effort that Waterloo Region School Food Gardens is putting in to encourage environmental sustainability is making an extremely positive impact on all volunteers and school associated, and this should be continued in hopes of a brighter future.
If you are a person interested in making a monetary contribution, you can do so below. We appreciate the support in helping to ensure that our program can continue to operate.